Ron Paul Bill Would End Federal War on Marijuana

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Rep. Barney Frank is co-sponsoring the first-of-its-kind legislation, which would permit states to legalize the drug

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Are Republicans serious when they say that the federal government should cede power to the states? Where do liberal Democrats really stand on drug prohibition? Congress must now confront those questions, thanks to Reps. Ron Paul and Barney Frank. They're cosponsoring legislation "to limit the federal government's role in marijuana enforcement." States would be free to keep the drug illegal, or to allow its use per the judgment of legislators and their constituents.

Hailed as the first bill of its kind to be introduced in Congress - that's expected to happen later today - its states' rights approach is significant, and forces defenders of federal drug policy into their weakest position. It's one thing to argue that marijuana should be illegal. It's another thing to insist that the federal government enforce a nationwide ban even as duly elected state legislatures signal that the people disagree. That is the essence of the matter. Under this bill, marijuana would be legalized only in states where the people and their representatives desire it.

Is the federal government justified in stopping them?

In the era of the Tea Party, when conservative Republicans are insisting that state governments be permitted to reject Obamacare, turn down bailout money, and otherwise flex their muscles, it's a tough moment to insist, "Yes, marijuana is different: the feds should prevail." Of course, the bill is likely to fail anyway. In killing it, however, various hypocrisies will be highlighted. As a result, federal prohibition of marijuana will wind up marginally less tenable than before.

Image credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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